There’s always a sort of halo around legends—probably created by our own projections. The global hit “All Around the World” crystallized an era, with its mix of dance, soul, pop and groove. Lisa Stansfield has sold more than 15 million albums and acted in a number of films. When she strides across the lobby of the Hôtel Pont Royal, in Paris, it’s hard to look away. Today, she’s shown up in leather, head to toe: a Rick Owens jacket, Armani Black Label aviator hat, J Brand pants and Tracey Neuls ankle boots. And then this vibrant, sharp woman immediately starts to talk, her voice rich and gravelly.
So where does your voice come from? How much of it is Manchester?
Oh, that growly part? That’s Manchester, a sort of animal roar, from all the passion and excess. But you know, I’ve been singing professionally since the age of 14. My mum used to say, “go to your room and sing.” She was a big fan of Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye. So I incorporated all these voices, as well as the thousands of sounds, the intonations that you hear without knowing where they come from. It’s magical, like chemistry. So many voices have merged, unconsciously, with mine: Prince, Chaka Khan, Barry White. They were all my teachers.
There is so much love in your voice, like an endless incantation. Has life been kind to you?
Yes, life’s been good to me. I was dealt a very good hand. I met my future husband and producer, Ian Devaney, when I was 14 years old. We got married eight years later and have been together ever since. But I don’t take anything for granted. You have to work hard every day to stay lucky.
Your duet with Barry White is incredible, very unsettling and intimate, and full of sensuality. Do you remember how you met?
I remember it well! Everyone, my people and his people, were super cautious. We felt like monkeys in a cage: “Don’t give them anything to drink, don’t give them any wine, don’t do this, don’t do that.” They were treating us like children. So with Barry, we had a couple of glasses of wine that we hid behind our chairs. That relaxed the atmosphere. We made friends that day; that’s probably why this duet is so fusional. His voice makes you feel so good, so nice. It vibrates through your whole body. It’s like a sensual feeling that immediately relaxes you.
It probably feels strange to look back at those years when you became famous. What’s your takeaway from that time?
You know, when you’re an artist, you’re in a sort of bubble. Life seems unreal: the stage, television, studios, tours. You aren’t really in control, you just keep moving. Looking back, I realize that I didn’t run any part of my life; everything was determined by the various circumstances.
What do you think about this period now? Has the world improved since then?
I’d probably say that today it’s amazing to be able to meet people, communicate, travel, learn a new language at home, all through a computer. It’s tremendous progress. But I also see how social media can destroy people’s lives. You get a hundred supportive, nice messages, then you find one that’s horribly cruel, sent anonymously. That can easily ruin your entire day.
What throws you off?
Everything throws me off, all the time. You couldn’t do this job without being a little bit crazy.
What kind of food turns you into a barbarian?
Ah, well, an entire roast chicken, that does it for me. It’s a change from the tripe with vinegar from my childhood—now that was disgusting.
Do you change perfumes with the seasons?
I love the scent of roses, especially the fragrance by Jo Malone, and also bergamot—it makes happy.
Is there one of your songs that you love, but that no one else really noticed?
Pfff . . . I’m incapable of predicting which ones are going to be hits and which ones won’t get picked up. Never ask me which song’s going to be a commercial success. Anyway, if we could tell, we’d have been millionaires years ago. A song has its own life, its own lucky star. It’s all up to chance.
EN TOURNÉE AU MOIS DE MAI
1.05 Gasteig Philharmonie, Munich.
2.05 MuseumsQuartier, Halle E+G, Vienne.
4.05 Haus Auensee, Leipzig.
5.05 Mehr! Theater, Hambourg.
6.05 Friedrichstadt-Palast, Berlin.
8.05 Theaterhaus, Stuttgart.
10.05 Alte Oper, Francfort.
11.05 Capitol Theater, Düsseldorf.
13.05 Theater am Aegi, Hannover.
Interview by François Simon for Air France magazine
Photograph Frankie & Nikki